The bottle was empty. All the bottles were empty. Checking multiple times would not change the fact. He sighed. If only he had not completely missed the last watering hole. It was hard enough running out of water without it being so bloody hot and humid. Time to make a decision.
He looked around. The lush greenery; the very thickness of the air highlighted the irony of his current situation. What was the quote? “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,” or something like that. Nothing like learning first hand the meaning of a turn of phrase. So what to do?
Three options presented themselves: go back, and try to find the missed hole; wait here, and hope someone happens along with some spare water; or keep plugging along. To his stubborn mind, the answer was easy. Going backwards was, well, going backwards. Staying put would only make the lack of water worse if no one appeared. So forward it was. He still could encounter someone, and eventually there should be another water source.
He heaved his pack back onto his shoulders, and adjusted it so the weight sat on his hips. He was thirsty, but it was not really all that noticeable at the moment. He reached into his pockets and found he still had a few hard candies left. He popped one into his mouth. Saliva appeared immediately, assuaging the thirst for now.
At first, he moved along at a healthy pace, but the oppressive heat ensured that this would not last for long. This was going to be a very rough day if he did not find water in the near future. The weather pretty much guaranteed that nobody but the most die-hard hiker would be out today, which lessened the likelihood of encountering someone. It did not help that he had started so early today. The peak of the heat was still to come. Best not think about it though. The scenery WAS pretty enough to distract, and he still had a couple of candies left. Just focus on moving forward. He found his stride, and his mind soon slipped into that state between thoughts, where time seemed not to pass, though he was fully aware of the natural world around him.
Other than the expected up and down, the terrain did not change that much. As he had figured, there was little sign of anyone else on the trail. He was not the fastest hiker, but he kept a steady pace, so it was unlikely that anyone would pass him if they had not already done so by now. The initial rush of energy did not last long, and he could practically feel his energy leaking out. Normally at this point he would stop for a snack and drink, But, other than the candy, all his food was either too dry to eat without a drink, or needed water to make. Stopping seemed kind of pointless.
The all too familiar lassitude that was associated with dehydration started to slow him down. Being drenched in sweat definitely did not help matters. His drying mouth insisted on another candy; reaching into his pocket he realized there were no more. A slight headache was beginning right between his eyes, and he had a vague ache working its way throughout his muscles. He shook his head to regain focus, shaking off the mild discomfort and trying to get back into the zone. Surely he would find water soon. The impressive greenery said that there had to be water available SOMEWHERE.
As time continued to timelessly pass, his discomfort grew, making him more aware of the day proceeding. He had the sudden urge to urinate, which seemed odd. He was reluctant to give in, not wanting to waste any precious fluid, but soon the urge became unbearable. Finally he stepped off the trail and let loose a darkly orange stream. That was not good. Surprisingly, he felt a little more energized, partially because the act seemed to cool his body for a bit, like stepping into a walk-in refrigerator. He kept plodding along. The dry mouth and increased aches and pains made it harder to keep a steady focus. He began counting his steps to help distract himself, a trick he often used when the trail started becoming difficult. Always he kept alert for signs of water.
The headache was getting fierce. Fortunately, his mouth was so dry that his lips kept sticking to his teeth, which kept him from focusing on the headache. The ache in his muscles became a painful tightening, to the point that if he locked anything it would almost immediately begin to cramp. Grabbing a small pebble, he tossed it in his mouth, hoping to prompt a little more saliva. It came, slowly, and only a very little. If he did not find water, the situation was likely to take a very dark turn.
The shadows began growing longer, relieving the heat a bit, if not the humidity. Something startled him to alertness. He realized that he had been on the trail for hours. Rather than in a meditative state, he was in a hazy fog, his primary focus being the horrible dryness of his mouth, and the recurrent images of cool refreshing drinks that decided to torment him. He stopped and forced himself to focus, trying to identify what had triggered the attention shift. There it was. The distinct, musical babble of fast flowing water. There was a water source nearby! But where?
Rubbing the blurriness out of his now very dry eyes, he realized he was on the side of a mountain. The slope was steep, but it was apparent by the vegetation pattern that there was a stream down below, though he could only hear it, not see it. The sound was so tantalizing that he almost rushed down the slope directly. He still has some sense despite the almost overwhelming temptation. The slope was dangerously steep, and filled with vegetation. Chances were good he would hurt himself on the way down, and even if he did not, the difficulty of getting back up made a mad dash a bad idea. Best to take heart that the trail would eventually get closer to the stream if it did not actually cross it. Push on, and the painful thirst will soon end.
With a force of will, he started forward again. The tinkle of water just out of reach made the dryness of his mouth the center of attention. It also seemed to make his muscles want to cramp harder, so that he frequently had to force the movement of some very uncooperative limbs. Time seemed to slow down, and he felt that he was moving at hardly more than a crawl. Knowing that water was RIGHT THERE was the only thing that kept him in motion. He returned to his pain filled fog.
Suddenly the air cooled. His thirst ridden body instinctively recognized that this was a sign that water was near. The singing of the stream had taken a background to the pain of thirst, now it jumped forward into his awareness again. He realized that the stream was just out of sight, hidden by a turn in the trail. Desire and need created an adrenaline rush, and he found himself rushing forward. He rounded the bend, and there it was, a fast flowing stretch of beautiful water, directly crossing the path of the trail. He was hardly aware of dropping his pack as he found himself lying with his face inches from the water. He quickly scooped the coldness into his mouth, retaining little, but the mere presence of the cool moisture was bliss. Once the dryness in his mouth was finally sated, he slowed down, and thought about properly filling bottles and using his water filter.
For the moment, though, he rolled over and just lay in the stream. Life was good again.